Robin Quinn | The Man Who Broke The Bank

The Man Who Broke The Bank - Cover Image

THE MAN WHO BROKE THE BANK AT MONTE CARLO

About the book

Essential reading for lovers of Victorian true-crime stories. The book takes readers on a roller-coaster ride through Britain, France and Monaco in the company of one of the greatest swindlers of the era as he pulls off one breath-taking coup after another. His amazing win at Monte Carlo is just one of many highlights in this true story, which reaches a climax when Wells is pursued across Europe in one of the biggest man-hunts of all time.

The Man Who Broke The Bank
Hardcover; e-book
Published:
2016
Publisher:
ISBN:
9780750961776

Order now: Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmiths, iTunes.
Read excerpts on Google Books.

Now available as an audio book on CDs
And as an audio download

audiobook
Newspaper clipping: MONTE CARLO WELLS was for the time the most famous man in Europe.  He eclipsed every other social notable.  His wealth was supposed to be immense, and everything he touched turned into gold.  He became the theme of every music hall and pantomime ditty.  No comedy of the day was complete without a reference to the man who broke the bank. [AUCKLAND STAR, 31 MARCH 1906]

FACTFILE: Charles Deville Wells aka ‘Monte Carlo Wells’ aka ‘The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo’

Fact #1Fact #2Fact #3Fact #4
In 1891, during two visits to the Casino at Monte Carlo, Charles Deville Wells broke the bank several times and won £60,000 (equivalent to £6 million today). The present owners of the Casino admit that his success has never been satisfactorily explained. In ‘The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo’, author Robin Quinn sets out the possibilities .
The Casino at Monte Carlo
To ‘break the bank’ means to clean out the cash reserve of the gambling table in question. Each table was stocked with 100,000 francs in cash at the start of each day. If a player ‘broke the bank’, that table was temporarily closed and was covered with a black cloth.
The steam yacht Palais Royal, formerly Tycho Brahe
Soon after he broke the bank, Charles Deville Wells bought an old cargo ship, the Tycho Brahe, and converted her into a luxury yacht, re-naming her Palais Royal. At 291 feet in length, the vessel was one of the largest pleasure craft in the world. Even today, she would be in the top-50 of yachts in terms of size.
After Charles Wells broke the bank in 1891, his exploits inspired composer Fred Gilbert to write a song entitled – naturally – The Man Who broke the Bank at Monte Carlo. This became the hit song of a generation and remained popular for well over half a century. The singer most closely associated with it, Charles Coborn, made at least five separate records featuring the tune, and once said he had performed it on stage a quarter of a million times.

Blog: The Man Who Broke The Bank

  • The elusive Lizzie Ritchie

    In a recent blog post here I discussed some of the accomplices who helped Charles Wells in his bank-breaking and other activities.  One of these was named by him as Lizzie Ritchie.  When he was held in jail for fraud her name appears on a grovelling letter to Queen Victoria, begging for his release.  She is listed as his co-applicant on an 1887 patent for a musical skipping rope.  He also named her as his backer of his gambling at Monte Carlo (though he changed his story on this point several times).

    Although I was rather doubtful whether she really existed, I noted that in New York State, USA, a Lizzie Ritchie had applied a few years later for a patent on a new type of washboard she had invented.  On trying to follow up this lead previously, I could not be sure whether this was the same Lizzie Ritchie, and could not locate her in census records.

    Recently I looked once again at the sparse evidence that I had, and noticed the name of Jacob Ritchie, who had signed as a witness to the US patent application.  I guessed that Jacob must be a relative – a husband, perhaps, or a brother.  This narrowed things down considerably, and I was finally able to locate the couple in the United States 1900 census.  (I had not traced them before because their surname was spelt “Richie” on the census return).

    So was this the Lizzie Ritchie who allegedly helped Charles Wells?  It now seems unlikely.  The woman living in the USA in 1900 was born in Ireland in 1868 and had emigrated to America in 1886.  She had married her spouse in 1889.  On this evidence it seems most unlikely that she would have returned to Europe on several occasions over the years in order to assist Charles Wells.  Lizzie, it seems, was a laundress, and her husband, Jacob, was a “general mechanic”.  This sounds like an ideal combination for inventing a new-fangled washboard; but there is no evidence that either of them ever registered any other US patents.

    Based on this new evidence, the Lizzie Ritchie mentioned by Charles Wells was probably a product of his imagination; the woman in the United States was almost certainly not connected with him.

  • “Meet me at your bank – and bring your cheque-book”
    Drummonds Bank, London
    Drummonds Bank, London

    On a trip to London last week I made a detour via Trafalgar Square to take these photos of Drummonds Bank.  Why?

    Because the bank was already in existence on this site when Charles Deville Wells was active in London during the 1890s.  Wells, known as a “gambler and fraudster extraordinaire”, persuaded one of his victims – the Honourable William Trench – to back him in a phony patent scheme.  After handing over the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of pounds, Trench started to have doubts about the project, and when Wells asked for a further advance of money the young aristocrat hesitated.

    Finally they agreed to meet at Drummonds Bank, where many wealthy people, including members of the royal family had accounts.  This was also where Trench banked.

    Trench was persuaded to hand over a further large sum of money, but demanded that Wells provide security.  Wells offered two of his steam yachts and a smaller vessel as collateral, claiming that they were worth a substantial sum.

    Predictably, Trench later discovered that the two yachts were virtually worthless, while the smaller craft had disappeared.  In company with Wells’ many other victims, Trench became resigned to the fact that he would never regain any of the money he had put into the scheme.  Twenty years later, however, in an extraordinary twist of fate, the situation changed dramatically …

    A gleaming brass plate outside Drummonds Bank, Trafalgar Square. This almost turned out to be a selfie, but I thought I'd spare you that!
    A gleaming brass plate outside Drummonds Bank, Trafalgar Square. This almost turned out to be a selfie, but I thought I’d spare you that!

     

  • A Family Connection
    lee radziwill
    Lee Radziwill, younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

    I’m currently enjoying A Tale of Two Sisters on the Yesterday Channel.

    To quote the listing,

    This brand new and exclusive three-part series delves into the relationships of six prominent women from world history – sisters by birth, all enjoying very different relationships with each other. The series explores the fascinating but sometimes fractious lives of aviation hero Amelia Earhart, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and the infamous Mitford sisters.

    I’m especially keen to watch the third instalment when I’ll be able to learn more about Lee Radziwill, sister of the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.  She was married in 1959 to Stanislaw Radziwill (1914 – 1976).

    My interest in the Radziwills stems from the fact that Louise Blanc – daughter of François Blanc, the former owner of the Casino at Monte Carlo – married Prince Constantin Radziwill in 1876.

    It seemed evident that Stanislaw and Constantin were from the same family, but what exactly was the connection?  I set myself the task of finding the link.  Using a number of sources online, including Wikipedia, geni.com, and thepeerage.com, I finally had to reach back as far as the 16th century to discover that both men were indeed descended from a common ancestor – Aleksander Ludwik Radziwill (1594 – 1654).

     

    Aleksander Ludwik Radziwill

  • The Man who Broke the Bank – new audio edition
    The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo - Audiobook (8 audio CDs or 2 MP3 CDs)
    The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo – Audiobook (8 audio CDs or 2 MP3 CDs, or download)

    A new audio edition of The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo has been released by Oakhill Publishing Ltd.  This is a complete and unabridged version of the book, with a playing time of around 9 hours 40 minutes.  The reader is award-winning actor Jonathan Keeble, who has recorded over 400 audio books and is the voice of the disreputable Owen in long-running radio drama, The Archers.

    The audio book is available as a download; as 2 MP3 CDs; or as 8 audio CDs.  For further info, please click here: http://www.oakhillpublishing.com/bookinfo.asp?id=1816

  • Fake News or Fact?
    The "Salle Mauresque" (Moorish Room, so-called because of the style of decoration used). In this room Charles Deville Wells broke the bank several times.
    One of the gaming halls at the Monte Carlo casino.

    On 18 August 1913, players at the casino in Monte Carlo were astonished when the ball landed on black no fewer than 26 times in succession.  Believing that this run could not last, many punters had convinced themselves that red must come up next.  They lost their money.  Others reasoned that as black had been lucky so many times it would continue that way.  They, too, lost when the series finally ended.

    The story appears on numerous websites, and for many years it has been included in books on gambling and the laws of chance.  But is it true?

    I was determined to find out more, and to discover who had been the winners and losers.  So I searched a number of sources including the Times Digital Archive, The British Newspaper Archive and Google Books.  Surprisingly, I was unable to find any contemporary account of this event from August 1913 – or indeed any mention of it whatsoever until many years after.  Having trawled through numerous articles and books I located what I believe to be the first published account of it – in a book published as late as 1959.  This work is entitled ‘How to Take a Chance – a light hearted introduction to the laws of probability’ and was written by Darrell Huff.  (Note the phrase ‘light hearted’).  The author of this volume presumably invented the story just by way of example and now it appears in reputable publications as though it were an established fact.

    But if it had really taken place, what would have happened if a gambler had bet on black starting with a stake of £1, and then left their winnings to accumulate on the same colour for 26 spins of the wheel?  A quick calculation shows that in theory they would have finished up with over £50 million!  This would have been something of an inconvenience to the casino, to put it mildly.  To prevent any player from winning sums of this magnitude, the casino’s rules at that time limited the maximum stake to about £250, a measure which would have reduced the total win to about £9,000 – still a good return on an initial investment of £1 !

    By the way – if you know of any source for this tale which pre-dates Darrell Huff’s 1959 book, I’d be delighted to hear all about it.  info@robin-quinn.co.uk